grinding down the barriers to cycling

Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas.

A couple of years, ago on arrival in my new neighbourhood, I noted that the local the junction of St.Annes, Hermitage and North Grove…

…local junction was ripe for a redesign.
Imagine the surprise – on Monday 28th April 2014 – to find a gap cut neatly in the guard-rails blocking the southern end of North Grove?

 The footway is already designated ‘shared use’, and level with the carriageway, so riding deferentially across it is now easy and legal; happy days.

I don’t know who undertook the small but important task making the northern arm of the junction permeable for cycle-traffic? Despite some big talk in the comments of a previous post, suggesting guerrilla action…

…it seems most likely – and most optimistic – that this small step, toward bicycle paradise was undertaken by contractors working under instruction of the London Borough of Haringey.

I’ve sent a note of congratulation to the council member for that ward, who also happens to be the ‘cycling champion‘ for the LBHaringey. Acknowledging good work is always polite and politic.

This is not the only good news from N15. The small hours of Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas. Helpfully these industrious munchkins had fired up a portable LED matrix to inform passers-by what they were up to.

I thought about hanging around to become the first person through when they moved the cones, but my bed was calling, so – in traditional random push-bike style – contented myself with being one of the last naughty riders to go East on Broad Lane illegally.
Transport for London – who administer these trunk roads – have allowed their contractors a long time to return the roads of the Tottenham Hale one-way system to a default setting. This is customary. Works that involve changing the highway pattern almost always drag on for months and years, even though it’s possible – when deemed necessary – to make extensive changes at very short notice. Older readers may remember the famous ‘ring of Lego‘ that went in – pretty much overnight – twentysome years ago in response to Irish Republican bombs in The City of London.
There’s a conspiracy theory that suggests works like these are deliberately allowed to drag on for months so that anyone disadvantaged by the changes forgets what it was like before the prolonged digging and re-jigging started. The theory suggests that, if the works last long enough, relief when they do finally end will be enough to obliterate any nostalgia for the old system; that months of cones, congestion and temporary traffic lights will obscure the difference between the past and the future. Blurring this distinction also inhibits those who much prefer the new arrangements from demanding more civilisation. When people notice change it reminds them that how things are is not how they’ve always been, and not how they always have to be. For clock-watching traffic engineers that may smell like trouble.
Conspiracy theories are always over-optimistic – they contain the idea that somebody somewhere knows what they’re doing – but they can be a useful tool of analysis. With their unenviable task, resolving conflicting demands and aspirations within finite space and green-time, it’s not really surprising if highway engineers, planners and politicians endeavour to keep the focus on technicalities. How, and for whose benefit, we organise our public space is a political question, but it suits those who plan, build, maintain and administer our highways if this truth remains obscure.

How streets are laid out, how people are encouraged to use them can be treated as a technical problem with solutions. It’s also useful to think of it as a political contest with winners and losers.

The excellent ‘space for cycling’ campaign is currently releasing lots of energy. Enabling many people to make small efforts is more productive than stakhanovite labours by a few. If you haven’t yet taken the time to fill in the boxes and alert your local candidates do it now. It only takes a couple of minutes.

I have a small quibble with ‘space for cycling’ as a slogan. Does it reinforce the popular misconception of cycling as a problem, yet another demand on public space? As arguments against engineering the World to accommodate and encourage motor-dependence become better understood and more popular there’s a reactionary tendency to see cycle-traffic as another interest group at odds with ‘motorists’, or ‘pedestrians’, or ‘bus passengers’.

On roads subject to motor-traffic congestion – in urban and suburban Britain that currently means pretty much all roads – cycle-traffic produces space. When you’re riding along and somebody with a potentially higher speed is being momentarily delayed by your presence – when you’re presence is producing a convergence between their maximum speed and their average speed –  you’re releasing capacity. Bursts of speed waste space.

If you want to travel by bike gyratory systems are a nuisance.

They mean you have to…

  • …travel further
  • …deal with junctions with more lanes and higher traffic speeds.
  • They encourage the operators of motor-vehicles to go faster and take less care.
  • They make navigation more difficult.

Research showing busy one-way roads, roads carrying heavy flows of motor-traffic, are less convivial places to live dates back to the 1970s.

Getting rid of one-way streets…

  • …is good for residents and traders.
  • …means finding bus stops is simple.
  • …is good for bus passengers.
  • …make it easier to cross roads on foot.
  • …is good for local motor-traffic.

Getting rid of one-way systems is good for everybody except the people who manifest as through-motor-traffic, who contribute nothing to the local environment and economy but noise, severance and toxic polution.

Cycle-traffic is not another dish on the menu it’s the mainstay of a whole new cuisine. Building broad alliances against one-way operation marginalises those still clinging to the unrealisable fantasy of universal personal mobility via motor cars.

It’s too early to assess the value of the new two-way Broad Lane, it will take six months for things to settle down and folk to get used to it. It used to have three traffic lanes in one direction, now it has one in each. The 20 mph speed limit is unenforced except by fat grandads on bikes who don’t mind being used as traffic calming. However when I was spinning along it yesternight I had to ring my bell at a young fellow crossing the road while reading his smart phone.

Happy Days.

never mind the bollards

Saturday’s big ride event has been widely reported as ‘a protest’ but it’s naive to imagine that much notice will be taken off a bunch of happy bike riders, being obedient, on a Saturday? The event was a success, but not because it made governments tremble. Rulers are always more likely to focus on the apathetic millions who didn’t turn out.

Saturday’s big ride event has been widely reported as ‘a protest’ but it’s naive to imagine that much notice will be taken off a bunch of happy bike riders, being obedient, on a Saturday? The event was a success, but not because it made governments tremble. Rulers are always more likely to focus on the apathetic millions who didn’t turn out. It was a success mostly because those who took part felt validated, part of something big, powerful, progressive and  exciting.

picture from LCC

“WE WANT SAFER CYCLING STREETS” is an odd slogan.  The event itself was taking place on the streets of London and – despite the odd touch of wheels and some temporary ear damage  – was devoid of mortal danger. No serious injuries were reported. “WE WANT SAFER STREETS” would be evasive enough. “WE WANT SAFER CYCLING STREETS” is just confusing. Aren’t all streets for cycling?

Danger doesn’t come from streets it comes from people. The layout of the streets has an important influence on how people behave but worrying only about the streets, ignoring the actual source of the trouble – people – is displacement activity; focusing on something relatively simple, because the actual problem is too complicated, too daunting.

When J.S.Dean – chairman of the Pedestrian’s Association – identified ‘road safety’ as a brutal ideology, formulated by the German National Socialists, and enthusiastically adopted by the British Motor-Lobby, he didn’t feel any need to explain why special tracks for cyclists were evil.

“Here then are some of the Nazis’ “road safety” methods: fines for “careless walking,” collectable on the spot; “endangering traffic” and crossing against the amber made punishable offences; special tracks for cyclists….”

J. S. Dean, Murder Most Foul,

a study of the road road deaths problem

1947

[my emphasis]

Laying a cycle-track beside a street is an unambiguous statement that the people using the roadway are expected to be brutalised and brutal, to put their need to hurry – or more precisely, in an urban context, to put their desire to feel as though they are in a hurry – above the well-being of others.

Under the crushing cultural and economic inertia of motorisation J.S.Dean became a voice in the wilderness. Questioning the costs of hyper-mobility is only just emerging into the mainstream after half a century during which drawing attention to its toll put one beyond the frontiers of sanity.

In Central and Inner London a critique of motor-dependence now makes obvious sense. As this local consensus grows stronger we need not be as dogmatic as the heroic hold-outs of history. It’s as foolish to reject cycle-tracks because the Nazis liked them as it would be to denounce training for cyclists because self-advertising dinosaur John Griffin thinks it a good idea.

Currently there are plenty of roads, where there are space for cycle-tracks and cycle-tracks would be very useful. You don’t need to ride far out from Central London on any radius to find highways where current conditions demand a very tough-minded attitude, where people on bikes are rare enough that younger motorists, or those who grew up overseas, imagine that cycle-travel on them is actually prohibited.

There’s now a fashion for commentary – accompanied by pictures of everyday cycling in the cities of Northern Continental Europe – that looks eagerly forwards to the day when London ‘will look like this’. Meanwhile in the London Borough of Hackney bicycling is – in certain demographics – becoming the default non-walking mode, and an appetite for practical cycle travel is bleeding into all the other fragments that populate this nascent velo-paradise. There are historical and geographical reasons for this but it’s happening without recourse to Hitlerite infrastructure.

Stevenage has cycle-tracks everywhere and far fewer riders than the London Borough of Hackney or Ferrara in Italy, where thirty per-cent of journeys are made by bike. I’ve been told Ferrara has no cycle-tracks.

Cycle-tracks are an important element in a transitional programme, but not an objective in their own right for anyone but apologists for motor-dependence. Check – for example – sorry advert for sedentary living Adam Rayner…

…and his endorsement of Dutch infrastructure at 3.14. He wants cycle-tracks, doubtless in principle and forever. But is he an aspirational role-model?

cruisin’ and playin’ the radio

On Saturday 10,000 – give or take – rode from Park Lane up Piccadilly down to Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and out along the Embankment. I used the event to debut my new 24 volt sound system which performed faultlessly, with a four hour run time and at least one complaint that it was just too fffortissimo.

On Saturday 10,000 – give or take – rode from Park Lane up Piccadilly down to Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and out along the Embankment. I used the event to debut my new 24 volt sound system which performed faultlessly, with a four hour run time and at least one complaint that it was just too fffortissimo.

Having started on cycle-mounted remote sound in the era of cassette-tapes and progressed through CD’s and mini-discs it’s great to enjoy the solid-state stability of a digital player the size of a matchbox. The new outfit fits on a Burrows 8Freight and two wheels are a lot less stress than my last system which ran on a big old Brox.

now loud light and nimble (picture from funnycyclist)

I like music on bike rides.  It mocks the cult of banging music in cars, gives the most mundane spin a cinematic quality and signals to anyone watching that this is not angry it’s FUN.

If you’re planning a rolling event, skates, boards, space-hoppers even pedal bikes, that might benefit from a sound-system that leaves nothing but silence between the notes, or are thinking of a party somewhere conveniently off-grid and don’t want a generator hum, drop me a line and we can talk.

unity = strength

John Griffin’s call for civil-disobedience among his sub-contractors has annoyed some bike riders but the real turf-war is between categories of taxi-driver. Black-cab drivers, the aristocrats of the trade, have to spend years of ritual humiliation as ‘knowledge boys’, pottering around on low-powered motor-cycles – riding them is really dangerous –  with bar-mounted map-clips, memorising the streets, hoping  to pass ‘The Knowledge’, a Driving Standards Agency exam.

John Griffin’s

among his sub-contractors has annoyed some bike riders but the real turf-war is between categories of taxi-driver. Black-cab drivers, the aristocrats of the trade, have to spend years of ritual humiliation as ‘knowledge boys’, pottering around on low-powered motor-cycles – riding them is really dangerous –  with bar-mounted map-clips, memorising the streets, hoping  to pass ‘The Knowledge’, a Driving Standards Agency exam.
Black-cab drivers can navigate from Paddington Church Street to Wimbledon Church Street without reference to books, electronic aids or phoning a friend.  Licensed taxi-drivers in black-cabs can pick up passengers who hail them on the street while minicab-drivers can only take bookings by phone, internet or via an office. Minicab-drivers are free to negotiate fares, black-cabs carry a meter that only offers a fixed tariff.

The advent of satellite navigation has diluted the mystical status of ‘The Knowledge’. John Griffin, chairman of the Private Hire Car Association, clearly wants to move the image of the minicab – traditionally a smelly car with square wheels, whose dodgy looking driver doesn’t know Camden Town from Canning Town – up-market.

The bitterest arguments are usually between groups who – viewed from a distance – appear to be almost identical. Supporters of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United don’t get along even though both come from the Steel City and have an unhealthy interest in association football.

does danger come from ‘streets’ or is that a euphemism for the followers of John Griffin?

Saturday(28-04-12) is the date of ‘The Big Ride‘ a show of strength organised by the London Cycling Campaign to coincide with the forthcoming mayoral election.

Think long and hard before voting for anyone who makes our city a global embarrassment by being too dumb to put mudguards on a bike they plan to ride in office clothes.

The Big Ride rolls out from Marble Arch at mid-day and there are feeder rides starting all over.

You may be a follower of Mikael Colville-Andersen to whom a bike is no more interesting than a vacuum cleaner and who does most of his miles in a jet airliner? You may be the kind of person who  if their head were cut off – in some brutal Matthew Parris inspired atrocity – it would reveal the image of a bicycle through their neck like the writing in a stick of seaside rock?

Either way if you’re in the London area on Saturday, with nothing better to do, why not join in? You might make new friends or – even better – history?